Late Sunday, off the coast of Cyprus, a team of U.S. Navy SEALs captured the hijacked oil tanker Morning Glory from Libyan rebels. "No one was hurt tonight when U.S. forces, at the request of both the Libyan and Cypriot governments, boarded and took control of the commercial tanker Morning Glory, a stateless vessel seized earlier this month by three armed Libyans," said Pentagon spokesman Rear Adm. John Kirby. President Obama authorized the raid just after 10 p.m. on Sunday.
U.S. forces will escort the ship back to a port controlled by Libya's central government, which is fighting various factions for possession of the country's vast oil reserves.
The story of the Morning Glory is complicated and slightly madcap, but with serious implications for Libya and Europe, which gets oil from the country via a pipeline to Italy. On March 1, the North Korea-flagged ship turned off its satellite transponder and a week later turned up in the eastern Libyan port of Es Sider, which is controlled by a rebel militia that is trying to sell oil from the region for its own profit. On March 10, the tanker left port carrying 234,000 barrels of oil.
If breakaway regions are allowed to sell oil on their own, the Libyan government will quickly go bankrupt. Prime Minister Ali Zeidan ordered the Morning Glory stopped, even if it meant sinking the vessel. With Libya's navy essentially nonexistent and its air force embroiled in its own infighting, the militia Zeidan sent out to stop the tanker failed. Parliament then sacked Zeidan, who subsequently fled to Germany. On March 13, North Korea revoked the Morning Glory's registration, making it a stateless vessel.
Contraband oil is harder to sell than you might think. Libya could still descend into civil war, as various militias battle for resources and influence. But now at least the rebels in the oil-rich east know the risks of trying to use a heavily watched and coveted international commodity as a weapon. Peter Weber
An estimated 14 people were killed and another 30 wounded by a car bomb in the Somali capital city of Mogadishu on Sunday. The explosion happened in a crowded intersection, with shrapnel hitting nearby food stalls and shops.
"I was staying in my shop when a car came into the market and exploded. I saw more than 20 people lying on the ground," said an eyewitness named Abdulle Omar. "Most of them were dead and the market was totally destroyed." Most of those killed are believed to be civilians, though Somali security forces were also in the area.
No terrorist group has claimed responsibility for the attack so far, though it was likely perpetrated by al Shabaab, an al Qaeda-linked Islamic extremist group that seeks to overthrow the Somali government. On Sunday, al Shabaab in a radio message denounced Somalia's new president, who holds dual U.S. and Somali citizenship, as an "evil-minded" "apostate" whom Somalis should not support. Bonnie Kristian
A bipartisan group of lawmakers — Reps. Earl Blumenauer (D-Ore.), Jared Polis (D-Colo.), Dana Rohrabacher (R-Calif.), and Don Young (R-Alaska) — this week announced the Congressional Cannabis Caucus. The group is the first of its kind, devoted to prodding the federal government to catch up with the move toward legalization and decriminalization of marijuana at the state and local level. Notably, all four representatives hail from states that have already made pot legal for recreational use.
"The federal government's decades-long approach to marijuana is a colossal, cruel joke, and most Americans know it," Rohrabacher said in a press release introducing the caucus. "Not only have incalculable amounts of taxpayers' dollars been wasted, but countless lives have been unnecessarily disrupted and even ruined by misguided law enforcement."
Though the caucus did not spell out particular policy goals, its members indicated a willingness to fight any Trump team moves toward a more aggressive drug war. "I'm very happy with the idea that if we have to we’ll bump heads with the attorney general," Young said of new Attorney General Jess Sessions, a die-hard drug warrior. Rohrabacher was more blunt: "The Trump administration should and will get the word that things have changed in the countryside, and they better not just be stuck in the '50s and '60s," he said. Bonnie Kristian
Rand Paul rejects John Bolton to replace Michael Flynn: 'He still believes regime change was a good idea'
In an interview on ABC's This Week Sunday, Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) strongly opposed former United Nations Ambassador John Bolton as a potential replacement for Michael Flynn, who recently resigned from his post as national security adviser.
"I think the problem with John Bolton is he disagrees with President Trump's foreign policy," Paul said. "He would be closer to John McCain's foreign policy. John Bolton still believes the Iraq War was a good idea. He still believes regime change was a good idea. He still believes that nation building is a good idea," the senator continued. "My fear is that secret wars would be developing around the globe, and so I think he'd be a bad choice." McCain, Paul said in the same interview, was likewise wrong on Iraq and would lead the U.S. into "perpetual war" were he in charge.
Bolton's name was previously floated for secretary of state or deputy secretary of state, possibilities Paul rejected in equally vehement terms, casting a Bolton hire as a regressive betrayal of Trump voters. One of Trump's best attributes is "his opposition to the Iraq war and regime change," Paul wrote in a November op-ed, while "Bolton was one of the loudest advocates of overthrowing Saddam Hussein and still stupefyingly insists it was the right call 13 years later." Watch his comments on ABC below. Bonnie Kristian
— ABC News Politics (@ABCPolitics) February 19, 2017
Fox News Sunday host Chris Wallace and White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus clashed Sunday over President Trump's tweet labeling the media an "enemy of the American people."
"I don't have any problem with you complaining about an individual story" or bias, Wallace said. "But you went a lot further than that — or the president went a lot further than that he said that the 'fake media' — not certain stories — the 'fake media' are an 'enemy to the country.'"
Priebus pushed back, arguing that the issue is "not just two stories" that may be marred by bias or error but "24 hours a day, seven days a week" of cable news programming that focuses not on the Trump administration's policy accomplishments but "total garbage, unsourced stuff" about personal dynamics between White House staff and alleged unsavory ties between the Trump campaign and Russian spies (a charge Priebus categorically denied in the same conversation).
Wallace disagreed with Priebus' assessment, noting that every Trump action Priebus mentioned had received widespread cable news coverage. "You're right, some of these things were covered," Priebus conceded, "but you get about 10 percent coverage [of Trump's accomplishments] but then as soon as it was over the next 20 hours is all about Russian spies…"
Wallace cut him off: "But you don't get to tell us what to do, Reince, any more than that Barack Obama did. Barack Obama whined about Fox News all the time, but I gotta say, he never said that we were an enemy of the people." Watch an excerpt of their exchange below. Bonnie Kristian
— Sabrina Singh (@sabrinasingh24) February 19, 2017
President Trump's tweet declaring the media an "enemy of the people" — and his antagonism to the press more broadly — are characteristic of a would-be dictator, Republican Sen. John McCain (Ariz.) and Democratic Rep. Adam Schiff (Calif.) independently charged in interviews airing this weekend.
McCain's allegation came first in a Saturday conversation with NBC's Chuck Todd on Meet the Press. "The fact is we need you, we need a free press. It's vital," McCain said. "That's how dictators get started," he continued a few moments later. "They get started by suppressing free press, in other words, a consolidation of power. I am not saying that President Trump is trying to be a dictator. I am just saying we need to learn the lessons of history."
Schiff appeared on ABC's This Week in an interview scheduled to air Sunday. "This is something that you hear tin-pot dictators say when they want to control all of the information," he said of Trump's media tweet. "It's not something you have ever heard a president of the United States say." Watch an excerpt of each man's remarks below. Bonnie Kristian
— Meet the Press (@MeetThePress) February 18, 2017
— ABC News (@ABC) February 19, 2017
After it was delayed for repairs Saturday, the first joint SpaceX-NASA rocket launch had a successful liftoff Sunday morning. The Falcon 9 rocket launched at Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida, and it will deliver a load of cargo to the International Space Station.
— NASA (@NASA) February 19, 2017
The rocket took off from Launch Pad 39A, the same pad Apollo 11 used in 1969 on the way to the moon. SpaceX has a 20-year lease on the pad and hopes to use it to send manned flights into space as early as 2018. Bonnie Kristian
The USS Carl Vinson, accompanied by the guided-missile destroyer USS Wayne E. Meyer, was deployed to the disputed waters of the South China Sea on Saturday to make what the U.S. Navy says are routine patrols. The Vinson carries a fleet of 60 aircraft and will be "demonstrating [the strike group's] capabilities while building upon existing strong relationships with our allies, partners, and friends in the Indo-Asia-Pacific region," said Rear Admiral James Kilby.
The ocean territory in question is claimed by China, Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan, and Vietnam. Beijing said in a statement it "firmly opposes any country's attempt to undermine China's sovereignty and security in the name of the freedom of navigation and overflight." Bonnie Kristian